Why Nigeria Lost the IMO Council Election

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Eromosele Abiodun posits that policy somersaults, shoddy preparation and inexperience were some of the factors that hampered Nigeria’s bid to get re-elected into category ‘C’ of the International Maritime Organisation

A few days ago, Nigeria, for the third consecutive time lost her bid to get re-elected into category ‘C’ of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). This was despite the robust campaign embarked upon by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) led by its Director General, Dakuku Peterside.

Many analysts have said the failure by Nigeria to get the category ‘C’ has further exposed the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration obsession to appoint close family and party members into position that they are not qualified to hold.
While some stakeholders blamed Nigeria’s failure on NIMASA’s incompetence, one can only agree because at Nigeria’s expense, smaller countries such as Jamaica and Liberia were elected into the IMO council.

Last week, President, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Greg Ogbeifun had called on Peterside to resign, saying, he has “failed the maritime industry.”

Ogbeifun asserted: “Government should stop giving excuses why they failed and look at issues in the industry. We have an administration for two and half years in office, things have gone worst, they have not even visited our maritime institution in Oron. Instead we are spending money abroad; the international community is laughing at us because they know we do not know what we are doing, and we are saying enough is enough.”

As a matter of fact, the last time Nigeria won its IMO Council bid was in 2007 under Dr. Ade Dosunmu who was then the Director-General of the NIMASA and every attempt made since 2011 to return to the council has failed.
At the end of the election, 40 countries were elected into the IMO Council in three categories for the 2017/2018 biennial.

The successful countries are: China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States in Category A.
Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and United Arab Emirates were elected in Category B while Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey were elected in Category C.

Category A council members are countries with the largest interest in providing international shipping services, while Category B are countries with the largest interest in international seaborne trade: Category C, which has 20 countries are those with special interests in maritime transport or navigation” and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world,” according to IMO.

The election which took place in London had Nigeria as one of the countries seeking re-election by scoring 98 points in an election that saw five African countries-Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Liberia- join the group at the expense of Nigeria.
A breakdown of the votes showed that Morocco scored 134 votes; Egypt – 133; South Africa -121; Kenya – 120 and Liberia – 116. It was gathered that Singapore came top with 142 votes to beat 20 countries.

Category C is the executive organ of the IMO that takes decisions in the absence of the Assembly and coordinates all activities of the organs of the organisation. It has 20 member countries with special interest in maritime transport or navigation.
Nigeria’s 36-man delegation was led by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike RotimiAmaechi, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside and some directors and top officials of the ministry of transportation.

Call for Peterside’s Removal

Last week, at the annual dinner of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), its President, Greg Ogbeifun, had urged the federal government to replace the NIMASA boss over what he described as “gross incompetence”.

Ogbeifun said: “The event at the recent IMO elections into Category C of the Council where Nigeria lost and actually came second to the last position underscores the importance and urgency of the theme of this end of the Workshop and Dinner: The SOAN helmsman noted that whereas some officials have been sacked over fraud in the past, no one has been relieved of his position by the federal government on account of non-performance, or incompetence.

He added: “That our flag administration is extremely weak such that the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) which owns a large trading worldwide is unable to register their ships in the Nigerian flag and boost our tonnage. Instead, they have all their ships registered in foreign Flags of Convenience. NLNG actually approached our flag administration to express their desire and preference to register all their ships in Nigeria if the flag administration can be enhanced and reorganised to meet international standards.

“They went further and paid for a consultant to carry out a study of our Flag Administration and make recommendations to achieve this objective. The report and recommendation have been awaiting implementation by the Maritime Administration since then, over three years ago.

“That the Honorable Minister of Transportation on assumption of office and with promptings from stakeholders, set up a committee to study and make recommendations for the revamping and restructuring of our flag administration to make it more attractive for international patronage. A team of sound professionals worked assiduously to produce a comprehensive report and recommendations to achieve the objective but there has not been the political will to implement the recommendations of that report.

“That our own maritime administration, instead of engaging and collaborating with stakeholders, ship-owners, ship-repairers and Maritime Security providers to grow the Industry, they only specialise in collecting levies and revenues and meting out punitive measures on these stakeholders such as ship owners whose arrests, threats to arrest, and shutdown of ship repair yards with the accompanying consequences to the Industry which the international maritime communities and the IMO are observing.”

The ship owners further stated: “That our maritime administration is spending and squandering huge sums of money developing other nation’s maritime industries and institutions at the expense of ours by sending young Nigerian’s to various institutions round the world for incomplete training as seafarers such that their incomplete training overseas has not included the much needed sea time because there are no ships for them to sail on. This is in spite of the fact that we have our own Maritime academy of Nigeria, Oron largely funded by NIMASA by reason of the ACT establishing her but sadly, not one single Cadet has ever been sponsored by the maritime school by NIMASA.”

Amaechi Lambasts NIMASA DG

Although Amaechi rejected the call for Peterside’s removal, he agreed that the agency is not leaving up to its expectations. He however linked SOAN’s outburst to NIMASA’s refusal to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), despite the severe toll the non-disbursement was taking on the shipping industry.
But the minister berated the NIMASA boss over his failure to implement the report of a committee on reforms in the maritime industry. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the level of development of the maritime industry under Peterside’s watch, warning that heads may roll in the industry soon.

The visibly angry Amaechi said: “As the Minister of Transport, I sat down with all of you and you set up a committee, the committee submitted its report, you indicted us there. When I got the report, I asked the NIMASA DG, who is also the chairman of the committee why are you not implementing the committee’s report, he said he was yet to get directive from me and I gave that directive in writing.

“So he is yet to answer why he is not implementing it; but I am still not satisfied with the industry because I believe that the industry is supposed to produce more money than it is producing. I am not looking for financial audit but performance audit and heads may likely roll when the audit report comes.”
The content of the reform committee’s report remains largely unknown as both NIMASA and the Federal Ministry of Transportation have kept it closely to their chests.

Stakeholders Decry Failure

Also, maritime stakeholders have expressed shock at the inability of Nigeria to get re-elected into the policy making body of the IMO, citing policy somersaults, shoddy preparation and inexperience by the federal government as represented by the federal ministry of transportation and NIMASA.
A London-based Nigerian maritime analyst, Donald Adebola, who spoke shortly after the election, attributed Nigeria’s loss to “inexperience and shoddy preparation” by the handlers of the country’s bid.

He said: “It is clear that both the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi and the Director General, Peterside are not knowledgeable about the workings of IMO and while that is not wrong in itself, their inability to mobilise knowledgeable people on board to drive the process is confounding.”
On his part, a former director general of NIMASA, Dr. Ferdinand Agu said: “Politicians don’t have a clear idea what the maritime sector is all about. How can you contract maritime safety to a private company when the Nigerian Navy is there?” he asked rhetorically.”

Peterside Explains
Meanwhile, Peterside has explained why the nation lost its election bid into the IMO council. Although industry forces blamed the near lacklustre performance of NIMASA for the loss, Peterside said the accusations have no forbearing on the real reasons.
Speaking in Lagos at a press briefing to address the issues raised by industry watchers, Peterside cited three factors for the loss.

According to him, the Nigerian delegation started preparations late; did not spend as much as others nations did in lobbying other participating nations and not being well informed about the issues of piracy bedevilling the nation.
Also debunking claims that billions were spent by the delegation, he stated that the three delegates who represented Nigeria, which he led, spent less than N100million on the entire process.

He said: “Nigeria was last in the IMO council in 2011 and since then we have made efforts to get re-elected. We were first in council in 1975.
“Election into council is a democratic process and a fair comparison process and in terms of performance we have done very well. A few things were not tidied up which has to do with administrative process and part of it is that we started late in our quest to be elected in the IMO council. If you notice the trend in election all those who got elected in Category C were simply re-elected.

“Aside from the fact that we started fairly late, Nigeria did not spend as much as other countries. Other countries were hosting IMO events virtually every other months and for some reasons we did not take that route. Before when Nigeria goes for election in IMO, we will go from country to country but we are just coming out of recession, we did not think it wise to send delegation to go from one country to the other because you know how much that would have cost us, “he said.

He added: “So our campaign was not as potent as it should have been. The issue of piracy which I cannot deny had some impact on the election. So these were some of the reasons why we lost the election.”
He described calls by SOAN for his sack as a deliberate act of mischief.
Peterside claimed that the agency had implemented over 80 percent of the ministerial recommendation for restructuring.

On maritime security, he said there was a reduction in crimes, adding that the international community saw in Nigeria the will to tackle these challenges. He stated that with little support, Nigeria would surmount maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea.